Wednesday, September 24, 2008

On the record: Jenna Sauers

I spotted an eerily familiar face on the runway at the Lonely Hearts show on Thursday. I raced backstage but failed to locate the model in question. One look at the model cue card however semi-confirmed my suspicions: the name “Jenna”. Yep, the one and only Jenna Sauers was in town for New Zealand Fashion Week. Had I been properly on the air 24/7 last week – instead of having wifi access limited to mad dashes to the media centre to file in between shows - I would have twigged that Sauers had in fact been blogging throughout the event herself. Under her own name that is – on her own blog, which I read. As opposed to blogging under the pseudonym "Tatiana". UPDATE 22/07/09: CASE CLOSED - JENNA SAUERS IS TATIANA ANYMODEL.

Some of course are already aware that the NZ expat has enjoyed some publicity of late as a potential “Tatiana” – the anonymous model who has been blogging about the modelling industry via a column called Modelslips on high profile New York women’s blog Jezebel.

This is in spite of the fact that Sauers has publically denied that she is Tatiana.

Frockwriter has been covering the Tatiana story over the past two months – with Sauers herself also leaving comments at one point to further refute the claims.

Spotting Sauers again on Zambesi’s runway on Thursday night, I ran backstage to find her - this time, successfully. And was fascinated to learn that Sauers is now being repped by the Chic/Next amalgam.

Here’s our quick chat.

So are you Tatiana?
Jenna Sauers: No, sorry.

Are you at all flattered that people think you might be?
I don’t know. To a certain extent, perhaps flattered to be mistaken as a candidate is nice because I guess….I mean she’s a good writer.

But would you tell me if you were Tatiana?
Oh God no, of course not. I mean, would you? Seriously. But that doesn’t change the fact that I’m not. I kind of wish I’d thought up that gig though. Because it sounds sort of sweet to write for such a large readership.

So, any ideas?
I don’t know. Someone told me that they thought it was another girl from Iowa named Shea.

Shea Prueger. I mentioned her in the original post. The writing style is completely different.
Now that I’ve seen her blog, I see that it’s not the same writing style.

Another candidate is Emina Cunmulaj – who seemed to be absent from the New York season. But it could still be you of course.
You keep on saying that like you think you’re going to get….

Have you been contacted by anyone who thinks that you might be Tatiana? I mentioned that a large international publisher was on my blog one day looking at that specific thread, nothing else.
No, my blog is refreshingly poorly read. I think 95percent of my comments come from my friends and family.

But you use Sitemeter/Google Analytics etc don’t you? It’s about the traffic, it’s not about the comments.
I get about 200 page views a day most days. It’s nothing. I’m not very technologically with-it. I barely know how to post photos. I had to learn how to do that.

So what was the skeleton shoot you did in Australia? You mentioned it on your blog.
Yes it was hilarious. I think I’m going to be a window decal.

Who was it for?
For General Pants. The tagline is ‘Come alive’.

How often do you come to New Zealand?
It has been since January 2003 [since she has been back to NZ]. I was born in the US and moved here when I was an infant. Grew up here. Lived in Morocco when I was 10. Came back here for Year 8. Went to high school here then was an exchange student in Switzerland, went to the US to university and have been travelling since then.

So why aren’t you doing the ready-to-wear show circuit?
I’ve been working in New York all summer, which was a long time. I mean I love New York but it gets a bit much after a while. I popped over to Milan for a month but it didn’t feel like that much of a break or a change of scene even. And the chance came up to come to Sydney, which seemed like a totally different thing. It was to do with Chic, which I knew was a fantastic agency.

So you’re with Chic now? You weren’t represented in Australia before?
I’d never worked there.

Did Chic contact you as a result of the Jezebel publicity? [Auckland's Nova Models did in fact seek to contact Sauers as a result of the publicity]
I don’t think so. As far as I know I’m with Chic because Stephen [Lee] at Next in New York used to be with Chic.

But they only just contacted you?

Coincidentally, Chic reads the blog – at least I know that [Chic director] Kathy Ward does.
Actually, that’s one thing I’m kind of happy about. This whole misunderstanding…. Yours is a pretty cool fashion blog, which I now have to read. But thanks – again.

Chic/Next are very good at getting the word out about their models.
I’ve been loving Sydney.

You’re not moving back are you?
No – no. I’m going back to New York in November. I know it’s always a kind of decision that can backfire, to sit out the ready to wear season. But I think this way, I mean I’ve done basically all editorials in Sydney and even shot one here this week. Oyster, In Style, Karen magazine… By the time I get back to New York for the January shows, my book is going to be basically all new.

You could be Chic/Next’s new supermodel.
Well [laughs] we’ll see about that. I would be totally happy just to continue doing this for a while. I love to travel and it’s a brilliant lifestyle when it works.

So tell me about the writing. You have worked professionally haven’t you?
It depends what you call professionally. I wrote book reviews for my college newspaper. I interned at a literary magazine called The Believer, which probably about five people read in San Francisco. It’s a wonderful magazine. I haven’t done any other writing. I would like to be a writer. Probably some form of book critic at some point. That’s really my first love. I said no to fiction before but… one day I might want to write some fiction. We’ll see.

What about a record of your time as a model?
I don’t know – a lot of people write that book.

Paulina Porizkova…

I’m talking about a well-written book from an insider’s point of view – not just some celebrity book.
That would be interesting. I mean, If I thought I could do a good job, that might be a project I’d want to crack. But then there’s that whole being confident that you’re going to do a good job. Maybe in a few years…

With all the speculation about you potentially being Tatiana, has anyone you work with seemed a little nervous lately? There was that great ‘cokeblown oaf of a booker’ line.
Is that what she said? Oh my God. That’s hilarious. I hope her booker never finds out. What was the question again?

Has all the speculation about you potentially being Tatiana made anyone nervous?
Actually Stephen Lee one time earlier this summer, it was really funny. He caught me in the elevator of the Next building in New York. And I was changing my shoes. Because every model wears, like, flip flops to walk around in and then we change into these giraffe pedestal shoes.

The kind of shoes that models regularly fall off while they’re walking on runways.
Yes, exactly. And I was changing in the elevator and I was squatting down, in this awkward position, trying to get my laces off and my straps buckled. And Stephen hops in the lift and he says, ‘Oh Jenna, you’re such a funny model. Sometimes I look at you and I think you’re secretly a journalist just going to write a book about us all’. And I was like……’OK!’.

That’s hilarious really.
It was just the compromising position and the borderline embarrassment of just feeling mid-transition from street person to… Everybody knows I went to university and studied English and that, I suppose, between signing with Mother [Model Management] and signing with Elite in Paris, there was about a two month period where I was living in San Francisco and not modelling at all and calling myself a freelance writer. Which mainly meant that I had a shitty day job and sent out a lot of query letters which never got a single response. So they know that I have that history with writing. If you want to call it that. [I wrote] ‘Please, please, please publish my book review. Please let me preview this band that’s playing in three weeks in this shitty venue that a hundred people will see’. That kind of regular grunt stuff which never even went anywhere. So I’m assuming that’s why Stephen said that. I don’t know. I didn’t ask him about it. I just laughed and he laughed.

Some people seem convinced that it’s you. I’m talking about Fashinfags, The Fashion Spot...
I don’t really pay attention to that stuff.

Whoever it is, it’s interesting – as are the model blogs. This is an industry which revolves around women and which uses women to promote its products. Their stories are interesting.
It’s true. We come from all over the world and we live such transient lifestyles.

So Jezebel hasn’t told you to like, keep it on the downlow for a season? You know – disappear downunder for a moment, noone will ever know, they’ll forget etc…
Wasn’t there a post about New York Fashion Week?

No – she wrote one post about NYFW, saying how great modelling can be. She also said ‘I’m flying across an ocean in a couple days – wish me luck’. Which could have been any ocean really.
Well then why are you here talking to me? She’s in London, probably hanging out with Erin Wasson [presumably Erin O’Connor] and the model doss house she started or whatever.

So it’s not you?
Is that like the tenth time you’ve asked me? No I’m sorry, I don’t know what to tell you. So long as it doesn’t affect my career in a negative way, I guess people are going to think what they’re going to think and I can’t control that.

It’s a brilliant marketing idea though.
You think? I don’t know. I’d be a bit worried if I were her.

Because people think that she’s jaded and bitter because she dishes?
I don’t know.

She just tells it like it is. I guess what they’re not used to dealing with is the idea of a ‘double agent’.
I don’t want to criticise her or anything but there’s a slight element of almost… It seems like it might be in, I don’t want to say poor taste but almost. You’re in this industry and you’re working with clients on an understanding and then to turn around and write about it in secret, I don’t know… I have respect for that but I also would be concerned.

You think it’s unethical?
I don’t know if I’d go so far as to call it unethical. Because what’s the contract really? It’s – you will turn up and wear a dress. She does that presumably.

But then she slags some off behind their backs.
Sometimes. Maybe those people deserve slagging off sometimes.

Journalists do that all the time. It’s our job. We put our names to it and deal with the consequences. But there have always been whistleblowers in industries.
I can understand why she would want to be anonymous.

Do you think there are some things about the profession which should be changed? Issues such as being paid in ‘trade’ instead of cash.
Oh God, if they could get rid of the paying in trade I’d be all for that.

It seems like a pretty crap idea.
It is kind of crap.

What percentage of designers pay in trade?
Well it depends. Relatively few designers pay every single model in trade. It’s usually the young up-and-coming people who can’t afford to pay money. But then a lot of the bigger name designers will pay certain models in trade.

According to Simona McIntyre, she was being paid in trade by Marc Jacobs – and picking it up in fact the following season.
Oh man, yeah, God, tell me about it. I’m owed trade from the shows I did in New York in January.

How do you pay your bills when people pay you like that?
Well, you wait for that super sweet commercial-oriented job to come through.

I guess the idea that everyone works on is the prestige of being in a big name show, which goes in your book etc....
Getting to know the casting agency, all the editors in the front row…

So do you think models should unionise?
Oh that’s an interesting idea.

I tend to think the model blogs phenom might be edging towards that because, to a greater or lesser degree, these women are talking about the industry and opening it up to greater scrutiny. Do you think it’s a good idea or not?
I think it’s an interesting idea. I would have concerns about the practical applications.

Do you think there is a lot of exploitation?
It depends. You put a lot of faith in your agency when you agree to fly around the world, leave your family, leave your friends, leave your regular support network. And give up your regular life, possibly your education. At least for a month or two, maybe longer, if it goes well. And if that agency is reputable and respectful of you and doesn’t give you the runaround, then it can all go great. But just that initial leap of faith puts you in a position from which it would be possible for an agency that wasn’t so ethical, to exploit a young model. I don’t think it’s quite as bad now as it has been in the past.

What about all the young models from eastern Europe and south America? Presumably they’re in a much more vulnerable position.
Well I don’t know. There have been eastern European girls for a while.

But there has been a huge influx in the past decade, notably from eastern Europe. Most of whom were born shortly after the fall of the Iron Curtain.
It’s true – and especially if you add in the economic disadvantage of coming from a relatively poor country to a wealthy country. But at least it’s not like it was in the late ‘90s when there was all that hullabaloo about parties in Milan and models being assaulted. I don’t think it’s quite as bad as that.

Well in fact there is an online petition circulating at the moment asking for the NYC Police Department to reopen the Ruslana Korshunova case – suggesting that it was not, as widely reported at the time, a suicide.
Is there?

There was some initial speculation that there may in fact have been Russian mafia involvement in that case. It was quickly dismissed as conspiracy theory.
That’s creepy, That’s very frightening. The poor girl.

Think about it - there’s not a huge number of job options in those places for women.
I don’t know, I’ve never been to Eastern Europe, other than a visit to Hungary once. Which probably doesn’t even count as eastern Europe, because it’s in the EU. It’s an interesting industry to work in. And for the most part, I’m a fan. I enjoy it. I’m very grateful for the lifestyle it’s afforded me. A year ago I would have had no hope of standing here now.

Thanks to Tatiana?
No, it’s not. It’s thanks to me, goddamn it!

Sure, but there are a million models out there. Everyone needs a point of difference.
And mine has to be blogging in secret?

Well you do in fact blog - and for whatever reason, yours is one of the names that has been thrown in the ring.
And I have no control over that.

At the end of the day it’s not like you’re being accused of something really bad.
I guess not. I think the people who represent me know that I’m not her so they aren’t worried about proposing me to clients. At least I hope not.





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